Mommy Brain

I’m a mom. I suffer from “mommy brain.” A loose definition of this malady would include forgetfulness, a constant look of distraction, something akin to attention deficit disorder (ADD) when a) having a conversation, b) cleaning the house, and c) shopping or otherwise being in public, acute exhaustion, sudden bursts of uncontrolled joy followed by deep, almost manic moments of despair and/or anger. Physical indicators for “mommy brain” include a wardrobe full of torn, stained, and super comfy cotton clothing, a pervasive pony-tail, and make-up limited to chap-stick. Like other ailments, “mommy brain” is not consistent; some days are good, others are horrific. It all depends on outside factors, many of which seem to be uncontrollable, irrational, unpredictable, and delicate.
Before I became a mommy, I watched other moms in grocery stores or at the mall and shook my head. “Really? Can’t you manage better than that?” seemed to be my professional and naïve reaction. “I’ll never do… be… say… (fill in the blank here) THAT when I become a mom.” Yeah, well. So much for that. I’ve worn less make-up in the nearly 5 years since my son was born than I did the in the 35 years prior to that. And “mommy brain” has taken such a strong hold over my body that I can’t even finish making a bed without bouncing from about 7 other activities along the way. I have been peed on, pooped on, thrown up on, smeared on with food, paint, and plant matter, used as a Kleenex for a runny nose and for drying tears, used as a napkin, a jungle gym, a pillow. Sometimes I am a tree to swing from, a diving board to launch from, a safety net.

I wouldn’t change a thing.

Motherhood has inducted me into a wonderful club. An elite few (well, probably not so elite or few) who have an amazing comradery built out of empathy, sympathy, and the need for survival. Earlier today, I spent some time with my son, some of his friends and their mommies at the park. One mommy who had a particularly challenging morning due to the atypical behavior of her son clipped, “Parenting is really hard.” We could all relate. There was an audible sighing of agreement as each of us hit the TEVO button in our heads and replayed our own challenging moments from recent history. It was a moment where we should have all laid hands on the mommy and prayed over her and her son, adding our own selves as needing grace, patience, and wisdom. As we were getting ready to leave, one little boy realized he had lost a piece of a toy his father had given him. Completely distraught over this knowledge, the little boy began sobbing. The mommies all began scouring the playground, raking the tan bark, circling the sand box, combing the grass. As the minutes passed, the little boy’s mom said, “This is like finding a needle in a haystack.” Ready to go, we all agreed, promised the little boy we would look for it the next time we came to the park, looked at his sad little face, and… went right back to our search. Amazingly, another mom found the piece in the grass and joyfully we went home! Moms are special people.

I was flipping through a book by Max Lucado recently, You Were Made to Make a Difference, and in it I stumbled across a fable. In the story, the captain and crew of a ship get blown off course and “discover” a series of uncharted islands. As they visit each of the islands in turn, they are saddened by the warfare, lack of education, poverty, and disease they encounter. But when they arrive at the last and largest of the islands, the populace seems content, well-fed, healthy. Why? The chief of the island explains that Father Benjamin educated them on all kinds of things from governing to building roads to establishing medical clinics to farming. The captain is eager to meet Father Benjamin and requests he be taken to see where Father Benjamin lives. First, he is taken to a medical clinic where he sees clean beds, shelves of medicines, and a friendly, educated staff. But seeing no Father Benjamin, he repeats his request to be shown where Father Benjamin lives. He is next taken to a series of ponds and canals where the islanders can fish for food. Jobs abound here but there is no Father Benjamin. A third time, the captain makes his request and this time he is taken to the top of a mountain where there is a chapel. Inside, he sees a cross, some benches, and a Bible. The chief whispers, “He taught us about God.” Growing irritated, the captain demands to meet Father Benjamin. The chief explains that will be impossible as Father Benjamin died several years ago. The story ends like this: “The confused captain stares at the men. ‘I asked to see him and you showed me a clinic, some fish farms, and this chapel. You said nothing of his death.’

‘You didn’t ask about his death,’ the chief explains. ‘You asked to see where he lives. We showed you.’”

This beautiful story struck me as I thought about the ways in which we build each day a lasting memorial within our children. What will that memorial look like? Will it be clean, well-stocked, friendly and healing? Will it be profitable, sustaining, adding meaning and value to life? Will it be spiritual, bringing hope and good news to the world? In the midst of those challenging days of mothering, monuments are being built, patterns of behavior are forming, clay pots are being shaped and filled. Are our words and deeds as mothers positive, encouraging, affirming? What about the women, the mothers, who shaped and built memorials within you? What do those memorials look like? How have they shaped you?

Maybe, like Father Benjamin, mothers are missionaries in a strange, sometimes hostile world. What mothers build into their children may make the quintessential difference. Father Benjamin knew that he could help the people on the island through healthcare and job creation. But more importantly, he had to teach them about God. Without that as the solid foundation, he was only treating the exterior of the body, not the whole.

Maybe mommy brain needs to look less like chaos and more like purpose, God-driven and affirming. Maybe mommy brain needs to be more educating and less trivial, more focused and less erratic. Maybe mommy brain isn’t an affliction. Maybe it is a way of life, a calling, a mission field.

I need another cup of tea.


“Come on, Mom. Let’s go check on the tea,” Joseph said grabbing my arm and leading me out into the garden. Now, tea has a number of different meanings in my house these days. It could be a liquid flowering of delicate and slightly sweet flavors if Mommy is making a cup. Or it could be a cup of woodsy, earthy robustness if Daddy is brewing a pot. It could be a concoction of water, sand, and plant matter the kids create in the sand box, or, it could be referring to the silt and water accumulating at the bottom of the compost bin. Today, it was the “compost tea” Joseph wanted to check on. We carefully poured this liquid fertilizer over our garden beds, loving and talking to the plants as we went. I held the bowl while Joseph scooped tablespoons onto his favorite plants. It made me feel so… so… green.
Sustainability is a very popular word these days. Companies that prove they are creating a sustainable source for their products, whether by replanting the trees they cut or “reducing, reusing, and recycling” whenever possible are much more competitive and/or attractive in the consumer’s eye. As suburbanites, several of our neighbors and friends are turning their households “sustainable” with garden beds, compost bins, and chickens. We’re not far behind. We have the garden boxes and compost bin. Chicken coop plans are a’brewing. Stay tuned for fun chicken stories in the near future. We grow our own food because it isn’t processed, it is incredibly fresh, and it is delicious. Not to mention what a great learning experience gardening is for the kids… getting their fingers dirty, caring for another living thing, and then enjoying the “fruits” of their labors.
Dawn Faith Leppan, founder of the 1000 Hills medical clinic and feeding center in South Africa, recently posted on Facebook that she had handed out seeds to some of the families who attend her clinic and feeding center. The hope is that these families will be able to raise gardens and sustain their families. Dawn also mentioned that she wanted to start a worm bin to help those gardens succeed. In a part of the world where there aren’t grocery stores on every corner, these gardens aren’t about a healthier, tastier alternative to abundant processed food. These gardens are about sustaining life and stemming starvation.
Compassion Tea was started as an effort to create a more sustainable source of funds for its parent company, the CareNow Foundation. Fundraising has its limits, but memberships are steady and reliable. As we move closer and closer to reaching our first goal of 100 memberships, we are so grateful for those members who have joined our team and who are helping to sustain the CareNow Foundation and its work with medical clinics and organizations in Africa.
But it dawned on me that sustainable has to have an element of growth about it. Yesterday, I saw a poster advertising an Earth Day event at a local vineyard. Tours of the sustainable farm, vineyards, and restaurant gardens would be a part of the activities. The idea of sustainable farming is not simply to maintain the current production but to expand the productivity. Likewise, we can’t be content to simply sustain life in Africa in a few certain areas. There has to be growth, expanded impact.
As a sustainable company, Compassion Tea seeks to sustain the CareNow Foundation and its work. Through the expansion of our company, through the sale of more memberships and more tea, we can expand the work that is done in Africa thereby reaching more of the world’s least served. If you haven’t already done so, please join us.

Fabulous Peony

Going to my grandma’s house was special. That doesn’t seem like an extraordinary comment. Most people enjoy going to “Grandma’s house.” What’s the song about it? “Over the river and through the woods to Grandmother’s house we go! The horse knows the way to carry the sleigh through the white and drifting snooo-ow.” For me, I traveled in the back of a custom cruiser station wagon, sometimes through snow, often through rain or that grey nebulous cloud cover of northern Ohio. But in springtime, Grandma’s house looked especially fresh and welcoming. That’s because of the rows of peonies gracing the eastern side of the house with their gentle pinks bending their heavy heads under the rain. The peony is one of my favorite flowers. Those blooms are, in current vernacular, ginormous. Ever so old-fashioned, they seem to speak of lace handkerchiefs and hand-painted tea pots, china dolls and strands of pearls – true, gentle, feminine grace.
When Grandma sold her farm to move into an assisted living apartment, I took a shovel and bag with me the day of the move. I upended several of those peony bushes and carefully bagged them with some water around the bulby roots. Back at home, I planted the peonies out front, around an ugly utility box by the sidewalk. The first couple of years were dodgy for the plants. They must have been in plant shock after leaving their home of so many years. In fact, I’ve never seen them restored to their previous glory. When we moved overseas, there was no way to take them with me, and by the time we moved back to the states, we had sold that house and Grandma’s peonies were no longer mine. I haven’t been by the old house in spring, so I don’t know if the peonies are still there or not.
Last year, when we moved into our new house, I made several trips to garden centers looking for landscaping ideas and plants that would show off our newly remodeled pool and hardscape. During one such trip, I was greeted at the entrance to the center by a red-leaved, variegated peony that took my breath away. Whites and shades of pink adorn this beauty’s petals in elegant swirls. It now resides in a place where I can see it every morning. It has been sleeping all winter, cut back and appearing dead. But the stalks are rising, the buds are forming, the leaves are open and I await breathlessly the opening of that first blossom. We’ve had so much rain lately that when it does open it will no doubt bend its enchanting head under the weight of its water load, sending mini showers when the wind touches it.
I’ve also been awaiting my first taste of Peony White Needle, a white tea carried by Compassion Tea. What is the right time to drink this tea? How could a tea reflect a peony in taste? What does a peony taste like? This morning was the right time. Those in the house who needed to be up and out were out. Those who were staying in were still asleep. The dog and I had been out for the morning walk and it had been drizzling after a night of steady, hard rain and even some unheard-of-in-these-parts thunder and lightning. But suddenly the sun broke through with stunning radiance, igniting hundreds of little rainbows in the droplets that were hanging from every surface. Quiet and glorious, the morning was shaping up as the perfect moment. So, I fired up the kettle.
All teas — white, green, black – are made from the same tea plant, the Camellia sinensis plant. White tea is actually collected from a variety of this plant, either the Narcissus or chaicha bush. The leaves are picked between March 15 and April 10 to ensure the earliest spring buds of the leaves, unfurled and undamaged, are collected. These buds must appear velvety light green, almost gray. According to the Specialty Tea Institute, “it takes more than 4,500 hand-sorted leaf buds to make a pound of this tea.” Delicate, tender, painstakingly gathered, the buds are withered outside if the weather allows and then dried. Very little is done to the leaves so watching a white needle tea brew is spectacular. The needles hold their shape; they simply expand as they soak in the water. The tea is light and delicate in color and taste.
And adding a touch of peony to the tea is fabulous. It comes across crisp yet delicate, gentle and soothing, radiantly feminine. Like a dew-covered blossom nodding in the breeze, this cup of tea exudes grace and beauty. Grandma, I tip my cup to you and to this new method of paying tribute to your fabulous peonies.